Freedom from the office -- the Bedouin way

Working nomadically to boost your career

San Francisco Chronicle journalist Dan Frost wrote a nice piece recently about local digital nomads he called Bay Area Bedouins. These are people who work for San Francisco start-up companies without offices, who roam from one coffeehouse to the next, working wherever they find a Wi-Fi connection. (Traditionally, a Bedouin is a desert-dwelling nomad who lives in a tent and moves around to find greener pastures for his camels, sheep and goats, bringing everything he needs with him.)

No matter who you are, you can embrace the new Bedouinism. You don't have to live in the Bay Area or the desert or work for a start-up. You don't even need access to a coffeehouse. It's easy, and I'll tell you how. But first, let me tell you why becoming a Bedouin can improve your life.

Boost your career

There are several ways Bedouinism can help your career. The most obvious one is that, when you carry your office with you, you'll be more responsive to colleagues and customers. Instead of replying to requests for a document with: "I'm on the road today, so I'll send it to you when I'm at my desk on Monday," you can reply with: "Here's the document."

A less obvious way the new Bedouinism can help you is that you can get closer to your business. For example, you can spend more time on the road visiting customers and attending more trade shows and other events that give you an edge. You can spend more time with suppliers and other business partners. You can do all this without a major penalty to your normal workload. You'll no longer do business the traditional way, in which you have two work modes: "in the office" and "on the road." Rather, you'll have only one work mode: "wherever I want to be and ready for anything."

You'll also be able to get work done at arbitrary times such as while shopping with your partner or standing in line at the DMV. In such situations, your brain is just sitting there doing nothing. You might as well whip out your phone and crank through some e-mails.

Take longer vacations

There's a lot of negative press these days about people who bring their work with them on vacations. And I agree. If you get only two or three weeks of vacation per year, you shouldn't spend that time working.

Bedouins take a different view. If you have the right kind of job, you can take vacations while you're "on the clock." In other words, you can travel for fun and adventure and keep on working. You can travel a lot more without needing more official vacation time.

I've done it. In August I took a monthlong vacation to Central America, backpacking from one Mayan ruin to the next, and I never officially took time off. I submitted my columns, provided reports and other input, participated in conference calls and interacted via e-mail. I used hotel Wi-Fi connections and local cybercafes to communicate and Skype to make business calls.

Nobody knew I was sunburned, drinking from a coconut and listening to howler monkeys as I replied to their e-mails.

Of course, this may be impossible in your line of work. But you can still be a part-time Bedouin and stretch vacations, taking small bits of time off that you otherwise couldn't.

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Mike Elgan

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